THE GEO INTERVIEW WITH AMBASSADOR SHYAM SARAN - 'HOW CHINA SEES INDIA AND THE WORLD'


Amb. Shyam Saran

Image Credits: The Economic Times


THE GEO INTERVIEW WITH PROFESSOR SHYAM SARAN - FORMER FOREIGN SECRETARY


Amb. Shyam Saran discusses with The Geostrata's Asish Singh his latest book: 'How China Sees India and the World.' The discussion scientifically punctures China's claims to centrality and civilizational superiority, while examining China's historical sensitivities feeding into its negative perceptions of India and the way forward for managing this relationship.



Asish: Welcome viewers to a special edition of the Geo interview, we have with us today Ambassador Shyam Saran who is a former Foreign Secretary and has served as a Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Nuclear Affairs and Climate Change. Ambassador Saran has also been the Chairman of the National Security Advisory Board. Ambassador, we are delighted to have you with us and welcome once again.


Amb. Saran: Thank you, very happy to be speaking to all of you.


Asish: So today, the Geostrata will be having a conversation with Ambassador Saran on his recent book ‘How China Sees India and the world.’ We would like to get right into it. So Ambassador you had served in the MEA for a long time where you dealt with very hand-on, hardcore IR issues. Post which you have been delving into history trying to approach issues in IR using a historical lens and seeing the entire trajectory of China, for example, so how has this intellectual exercise changed your approach to issues in IR and, if you were the Foreign Secretary today, what would you have done today which would have been different from your last term, after this intellectual exercise that you have engaged in.


Amb. Saran: I would like to well first of all thank you very much for inviting me to have this conversation with you and am very happy that we will be talking about my latest book which is essentially trying to decode what's the prism through which China looks at not just India but looks at the world at large and how is that particular perspective being determined by historical factors, certain cultural factors, geographical factors all those aspects you know then over a period of time build the lens as I said through lens which China looks at the world around itself. This is not a scholarly book. I mean, if you want to really know the history of China then you should look at many more accomplished historians who have written about the history of China. The reason why I wrote this book was essentially that the general educated Indian to my mind has related knowledge about China, very little familiarity with China may be a handful of diplomats, may be a few scholars but essentially a large part of the educated you know section of the Indians know very little about China and considering the fact that China is going to be, is already, one of the most significant challenges that India will confront, it's to my mind very important that we should have some greater familiarity.


Why does China think the way it does? Why does China conduct itself in the manner it does not only towards India for example to its other neighbours? Why does it see its rivalry with the United States of America, for example, as almost an existential kind of arrival? So what explains that, because unless you can explain that it's very difficult through just IR theory as we learn it in our you know in our colleges and universities. IR theory doesn't have much to offer in this context. IR theory works as long as you put it in the larger cultural, larger historical so this is something which is very important for students of IR to understand, they should not look at everything as explicable as long as we know the theory, no, the theory can only help you if you understand the context within which that analysis is being done. So what I have tried to do in this book is to provide you with that context. Once you have this context then you can use your IR theory, the principles of international relations: there may be elements which are obtain from realist theory or even constructivist theory, there are several ways of actually analysing events but the context is very important so that's that is really the reason why I wrote this book.


Asish: Thank you Ambassador, so the context is clear now and within this context you have mentioned in chapter 1 that India is a “retreating image in China's rear view of the world.” So what led you to this conclusion after analysing Chinese's history and then coming to the present and also, if India is a retreating image in Chinese view, in what aspects will this image alter after the Ukraine-Russia war, and then the formations that we are seeing in the Indo-Pacific and India's overtures to the Indo-Pacific, you know the IPEF and related regional formations… we would like to understand your perspective based on the Chinese conception of India and that what's been happening lately.


Amb. Saran: So the reason why I used that particular simile, that is India being a retreating image in China’s rear view mirror, is because China is very much looking at its relationships through what IR experts would say is the balance of power kind of perspective. They believe that it is the correlation of forces, it is the kind of balance in terms of economic capabilities, military capabilities, technological capabilities, these determine what Chinese say is their comprehensive national power so for the last 40 years China has been precisely engaged in building up its comprehensive national power. And so today it is the second largest economy in the world just behind the United States of America. It's certainly the second most powerful country as far as military assets are concerned. And even as far as the technology is concerned there are certain important new areas of technology like for example artificial intelligence, machine learning, aerospace, bio medical field you know in all these fields China is investing very heavily in order to become a leading player in these domains, so China’s sense of itself is that we are already in the category of great power. Not just a major power but we are a great power, we may be slightly behind the United States but we are ahead of everyday else. So this is why they have a kind of ranking that is for China the important thing is major power relationships, essentially the relationships with the United States of America, secondly the neighbourhood, neighbours, because periphery is very important therefore China must manage that periphery well, and other developing countries.


Thirdly international organisations and fourthly, international organisations like the UN and others; so they sort of rank these various relationships according to what in the terms of power, which are the most influential. So the benchmarking that they do for China today is with the United States of America so in that context they consider themselves to already be in the big league and today they will tell India that, as I've mentioned in the book, that yes the relationship between India and China today is very different from what it may have been 30 years ago or 40 years ago or even 10 years ago because we are 5 times your size, our GDP is 5 times your size. Therefore you should realise that this will inevitably have an impact on the nature of the relationship between India and China, meaning thereby that “you should know your place, that you are a junior player, we are the senior player,” so it's in that context I've used that term that from the Chinese perspective–I am not suggesting that India is actually behind but what am suggesting is that the way Chinese are looking at India is that look, you are in the minor league now, we are the test players as it were to use a cricketing term, we are playing in the test you are maybe first class ticket but you are not in the test category. So this symmetry of power that China perceives, therefore colours a lot of the kind of postures which they adopt towards India. The language that they use in describing India and also the kind of expectations that they have of India-China relations.


So this is something important because I've said in the book that the Chinese concept of power is very hierarchical, so they see that you cannot have a multipolar world. I mean they may be using the rhetoric of multipolarity but in reality they don't believe in multipolarity: what they believe is in a very hierarchical sense of power and in that hierarchical sense they see themselves certainly at almost at the top. They are looking at themselves as the dominant power in Asia and with the possibility of becoming their dominant power globally, even though they may not be there at this point in time. So that's the context in which I've used that term.


Asish: Perfect, thank you Ambassador. Now given this context of how China wants to see India. You have written in your book that “China's contemporary rise is indeed remarkable, but doesn't entitle it to claim a fictitious centrality bestowed upon it by history.” Could you please build on why this centrality is fictitious, how China sees itself, and what are the gaps that you point out in your book.


Amb Saran: So it is fictitious because while China through history was a very large country, it was in many ways one of the more prosperous countries in the world…, and with respect to some areas on its periphery, it was also the dominant power, dominant culturally. For example, if you look at say a country like Korea or you look at a country like Japan they are very much in a cultural debt to China, Vietnam for many years was under Chinese occupation and its culture has been very much influenced by China. But beyond this it is not as if China was a kind of a far flung empire which incorporated virtually the whole of Asia, certainly not South-East Asia. Ss I have tried to point out in the book that if we are looking at relative influence of India and China with regard to South-East Asia, there is no doubt that there is greater influence, greater imprint of India on South-East Asia and not so much of China beyond what is maybe called the ‘Sinosphere’ constituting Japan and Korea and Vietnam…, and to say that China was always the dominant power in Asia and was deferred to by other countries in the region and therefore what is happening today is China is only going back towards natural position of dominance in Asia. This is what I am contesting: that there was no centrality with respect to China’s position, historically speaking, even if China was a very important country. Or when we are talking about the Belt and Road Initiative, China says “Well, you know it’s like recreating in a modern context, the old Silk Road.” When you say the old Silk Road because the word ‘silk’ is used so it appears that it is the whole ancient trading was all dominated by China and Chinese silk was the main commodity, which again is not true because the silk road is not one road, silk road was whole network of roads which connected China but also connected India, Central Asian countries, the ancient Prussia, going up to the Mediterranean. So there were many players in that particular old trading system and just as China’s silk was an important commodity of exchange so was the Indian cotton, so were spices from South-East Asia and also India, there were also very very fine goods which were produced in ancient Prussian empire which were also part in parcel of this trade… so there were many commodities being exchanged and there were many routes which were being followed of which China was also a participant. It is not to say that China had no role to play but it is not as if there was a certain centrality of China as far as the network of trading routes were concerned. The suggestion is, silk road… silk….and thus China being historically the most important trading nation. That is not what history tells us. So to say for example the Belt and Road Initiative is a recreation of the ancient silk road of which China was the central point… that history is not authentic history. So what I am trying to put across today is that today’s China’s prosperity is really derived from the globalisation of the Chinese economy, by being a very open economy by borrowing capital, technology, knowledge from many other centres of excellence and then yes, utilising it in the most effective way possible in order to become what it is today. So it is not that the particular historical status that China claims is legitimate, the legitimacy should be sought from history. But the history is not as what China says it is.


Asish: And the fact that this history that China is propelling in the global exchange is being accepted by some corners in almost all countries. What does this portray and how can this be rectified?


Amb Saran: You see that nobody usually in terms of public perception dwells deep into history to see if this is really correct or not. We all go by impressions, whether those impressions are really based on actual history or actual fact, that is not always the case even today you see social media, what it comes out and what picture it creates may have very little to do with reality, so certain kinds of broad impressions are created, sometimes impressions are created for contemporary political reasons. So I have pointed out that there was a phase when China and United States were almost like allies, from 1972 onwards since the visit of President Nixon to China, right up to at least 1989 when Tianneman riots took place, this was a period of great bonhomie between China and the United States and there was an effort on the part of western scholarship to try and boost China’s image, to try and say look there is a very very important ally which has also been a very important country. So there is a certain kind of effort to try and create a narrative, which is a much more positive narrative, because of the fact that China is an ally. Now after 1989 slowly you see a negative element in the perception start coming. So we have to, as students of IR, as scholars, analysts, make sure that we look behind those narratives, why is a certain narrative being created, is it really based on natural history or natural facts, and if it is not then what is the purpose of creating a certain narrative. So what narratives do is, every country tries to create a narrative about itself, it tries to create a more expansive image of itself, it tries to create a more positive image of itself. It sometimes airbrushes history that there may not be a continuous kind of a history starting from a modest beginning and then there being a linear process coming to where you are. For most of history whether it is India or China, we have gone through phases of fragmentation and phases of unity, we have gone through phases of actually being ruled by alien tribes or alien ethnic groups, so both of us have very complex histories. It is not as if in India there is a continuous history right from ancient days to present or that in China’s case it is the same, starting from the glorious history of the Chou dynasty, coming to the present as if this is an inevitable assent in history: that is not the reality. So what I have tried to show is that we see this narrative, we see what story China is telling about itself, and then is up to us to try and see what lies behind the screen, is it based on real history or is it based on some myth making or story telling, and if it is certain narrative which is being created, why is that narrative being created?


Asish: This is all the more reason, Ambassador, for every capital to have a copy of your book!


Amb. Shyam: I don’t know about that… anyway, it is my effort to try at least for the general reader, as I said this is not a scholarly work, to give the general reader some sense of why China conducts itself the way it does, and what are some factors which go into the making of that kind of a perspective.


Asish: Perfect! I am glad to capture this perspective in your book and also, there is a very pertinent thing that you write, that “scholars don’t see the irony of blaming the Indians’ supposedly deficient character for falling prey to foreign rule.” And then you go on to counter this by dealing at length with the Mongol rule in 12th and 13th centuries, and the Manchus and the Quings, and then how technically in history, Tibet, Xinjiang, etc., are not a part of China but a part of larger non-Han empires. Could you please brief our audience on this very important observation.


So, take a more recent example. You had the British Indian empire. The British Indian empire had at one time also included Burma. Now, does that entitle India to say that, you know, “this is part and parcel of historical India.” It is not. So it’s a similar kind of a situation with respect to Tibet and Xinjiang. It may have been part and parcel of an empire ruling over China AND these territories. But this does not mean that because China was a part of, let’s say the Mongol empire, or because China was a part of the Manchu empire, therefore these successor Chinese states have a legitimate claim over these territories.


So, this is the point I am trying to make, that if you see the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th century. The first turnings of nationalism were really anti-Manchu, they were not anti-colonial or anti-imperialist struggle. They were really trying to fight against an alien rule by the Manchus. Just as India was fighting alien rule of the British. But, what then happened was that because the Manchu empire had these various territories under its rule, at some point of time the Manchu empire was in a sense Sinicised. It became part and parcel of the longer stream of Chinese history. So, it was no longer alien. When they argue in favour of their claim to Tibet on the basis that at least for some time they claimed Tibet in the past, it is because Tibet was under the Mongol empire under the rule of Peking.


Now, the fact is that yes, Tibet was a vassal state to the Mongol empire, the Yuan dynasty… but so was China. So, it was not as if the Yuan dynasty ruling China incorporated these parts into China itself. No. Now, what happened in retelling that history is, whichever part of territory which was under some Chinese empire, Han or non-Han, logically belongs to China. That justification is what needs to be contested. So, this needs to be seen. You see the change: the first nationalist stirrings began against the Manchus and then, you see how it gets changed over the period of time when the alien aspect of Manchu is forgotten or it is not read up anymore and they become like another Chinese dynasty, just as the Yuan dynasty has become another Chinese dynasty. So, as Chinese dynasties they have claim to Tibet, they have claim to Mongolia, they have claim to Xinjiang. But these were not part and parcel originally of the Chinese state under alien rules.

Asish: I see, and based on that, in today’s contemporary Chinese political order led by the CPC, if we go into the origins of the CPC around in 1921; you talk about how it took inspiration from the Bolsheviks and that there was a convergence between the Soviet Union’s Communist party and the CPC. How did that feed into the Chinese contemporary political system and if can we consider that as the root of the divergence between the Indian and the Chinese political orders.


Amb. Shyam: Well, there are many reasons why there is a difference in the way India has evolved over history including contemporary history and the way China has evolved. Now, both India and China were confronting the challenge of the West. So, if we are looking at say, towards the end of the 19th century, the beginning of the 20th century; you have the struggle against not only the western domination, political domination but also the cultural challenge which was posed to these very traditional societies. So, how is it that they have been able to use, say, technology, modern weapons of war to dominate us, to suppress us? One reaction to that both in India and China was that, look unless we adopt western knowledge, unless we adopt western technology, we may not be able to actually deal with this challenge, it was a similar kind of reaction in India too. After all you have an English speaking elite which developed over a period of time, became educated in western universities or in western disciplines, and they formed a new elite, they led the struggle against the West. Similarly, in China there was a debate on how do they deal with this western challenge. Just as in India there was this challenge, and so was it in China. Now, in China, part of the problem was that those who were saying, like Japan, we need to be able to understand the western knowledge, understand western technology and we should strengthen ourselves. Another group was saying no, the reason why we are weak is because we have forgotten traditional Chinese culture, we have forgotten traditional Chinese trends even as far as technology is concerned we have had an ancient history of developing a lot of technological innovations, why can’t we actually do this.


So there was always this tension that on one hand you are looking at the western countries as the source of strength that you need in order to deal with that challenge, but at the same time you have this huge overhang of your own traditional culture that you don’t want to abandon, because that is part of your identity in a sense. Now, it is at this point of time that Bolshevism came into China and in a sense it solved that particular contradiction, because this was still a Western ideology, even though it was a Communist ideology, it was very Western and it was also an instrument of modernisation, after all this is what the Soviet Union then was doing. So, in a sense this contradiction was partly resolved by saying “yes, we borrow from the west but we borrow from the West which has been in a sense cleansed of its imperialist flair and oppressive character’.” …Because Marxism and Bolshevism was all about equality, egalitarianism… it was about bringing about modernisation of societies through reliance on the so called proletariat. So, in a sense it allowed China to resolve this tremendous problem of how a traditional society should transform itself but not be in a sense identified with the oppressor, because it is the oppressor who has the knowledge. It is the oppressor who has the technology. So, this was one of the ways as I said that China resolved that issue.


So Bolshevism became a very important force for transformation of China. In India it was different, in India we did not go through that kind of a revolutionary phase. As I said it was essentially an elite across India which was educated in English, which even became aware of its own past through English and that is how the whole sense of nationalism, the nationalist movement began in India. So we went on a different path. China went on a somewhat different path.

So, this is what I tried to bring out in the book.


Asish: Thank you Ambassador. Now I would like to bring your attention to the Century of Humiliation. You have written that China had a very negative perception of India based on British Indian army soldiers participating in opium wars against China. You write in your book that these events led to an impression that India could be used as a springboard for a foreign power to attack China. “India was not important in itself but it could be a springboard.” Is this one very particular observation feeding into Chinese perception, Chinese behaviour, Chinese attitude towards India and this is being justified by Indians participating in these Western constructs such as the QUAD, IPEF, etc. So, could you please elaborate on this history?


Amb. Saran: Yes so, again we go back to the 19th century, beginning of 20th century where I have said China once again confronts India after a very long gap. So China develops a very ambivalent view of India. Ambivalent because it recognizes that through history, India like China was a civilizational state. It was a centre of great advanced culture, after all Buddhism came from India to China. Many Chinese came to India to learn from the masters in Nalanda University or Vikramshila University. So, there is that memory of an India which was a very advanced centre of culture, knowledge and civilization. But, then India had fallen into becoming a slave nation. It is now dominated by an alien power and what happens is that India becomes the springboard for British depredation against China.

Sun Yat-sen says for example that Britain without India is nothing.


The reason why Britain is a threat to China is because it had India in its empire, and it is able to use the resources of India, the people of India for its imperialist ambitions. So in that context, what happened during the opium wars, for example, was that the soldiers who were used by the British in order to attack and assault the Chinese were Indian soldiers.

All those who for example, were policing the British concessions in Shanghai were Indians. So this is how that very negative impression developed: one, that Western powers are able to do this to China not because India is a threat, but because India under somebody’s rule becomes a threat. So this is part of the way in which they are interpreting history. If you come to the present, it's the same thing. They don't think that India per se is a threat to China, they think that India is a minor league player as I said earlier. But if India becomes a kind of a base for Americans, or if it becomes a base as in the old days for the Soviet Union (which was then anti-China) then this could be a danger to China. Therefore it is in China’s interests to keep India separated from these major powers who could be hostile to China. This is the reference.


Asish: Thank you Ambassador for this insight and this makes me think that in terms of policy implications for your book, should India even care about having a peaceful co-existence or resolving differences as an equal to China or should it continue on its current path. Is it in India’s best interests to try and contain China, because historically differences do not seem to be resolved? So what is your take on this?


Amb. Saran: We should never believe that problems can never be solved. Certainly, as a diplomat, nobody will accept that we are faced with a situation where we forever cannot solve a problem. Of course, we should constantly be making that effort to try and see how we can bring about a more balanced kind of relationship; not just with China but with other countries as well. So the first order of business is that you need to be able to understand what lies behind Chinese thinking, and are drivers of Chinese behaviour toward India. Because if you can’t understand what those drivers are, if you don't understand what are the wellsprings of why China is adopting a certain posture toward India, how can you go about trying to change it? It is only when you understand why it is behaving in a certain way, why it is saying what it is saying, that you can try to change that situation. Also, it is not just India which needs to understand China. I have said that China also needs to understand India; because China does not. I have shown how certain misperceptions of India have developed. So even when we are talking about the independence of India, we may not have considered it very strange that we had as the first Governor General of India still a British viceroy. He continued to be the Indian Head of State for almost more than a year after India became politically, and technically independent. We retained the Indian Civil Services and British Indian Army. So from their perspective, these showed that India was not independent. So we should understand why there is this perception. And therefore if it is a mistaken impression, how do we try to change it. But if you do not know that these impressions are there, then how do we change them? So it is important for you to understand China but it is also important for China to understand you. Which can only come through greater engagement, greater dialogue, and greater conversations. Only then do you begin to understand why there are certain differences in perspectives. So there is nothing inevitable about an India-China conflict; there is nothing inevitable in terms of enmity between India and China. It all depends on the context in which we are looking at the relationship. And, as you know, IR theory itself tells you that today’s enemy can be tomorrow’s friend and vice versa. So we should not take things as if they are riven in stone. It should be our effort to try and see how we can start chipping away at what may be stereotyped images; or images which are based on prejudice, not on facts. So I think, even if it seems difficult we need to be able to engage with each other, we need to be able to try and understand each other. Maybe you will not be able to remove all the divergences between the two sides, but if some of the things have arisen mainly because of misperceptions, mainly because of misunderstandings, at least those can be corrected. Therefore, the level of hostility between the two countries can be diminished. And that itself will be a plus point.



HOW CHINA SEES INDIA

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Asish: Thank you, Ambassador. I will now draw your attention to one last question. This is about the Third historic Party Resolution under Xi Jinping. As you pointed out in your book, there is a huge difference between the resolution that came out under Deng Xiaoping and the one under Xi Jinping in terms of collective responsibility, decentralisation, one-person rule, and limits on that term; so we are seeing one sense of insecurity in Xi Jinping in China recently with a lot of things and now couple that with the civilisational narrative that China has and then contemporary events, for example, the trade war, and expansion of the USA and its activity in the Indo Pacific which is trying to constrain China. So these things are feeding into that civilisational narrative and it is also breeding insecurity. Did all of this result in the Third-party resolution, how do you see this and what is the future of the CPC going forward given all these different variables playing out.


Amb. Saran: China says that the trajectory that they have followed over the last forty years or so, has brought them to a position of unprecedented power and influence. It is a fact that they are the world’s second-largest economy; it is a fact that the number one trading partner for a very large number of countries across the world is China. China’s influence has certainly grown since it has far more resources to be able to deploy. Take for example the South Asian neighbourhood; you know, whether it is Nepal or Pakistan or Sri Lanka or the Maldives, we are unable to match the scale of resources that China is able to bring to these countries. So there is a sense in China that there has been a kind of trajectory through which we have become one of the most influential countries and therefore Xi Jinping has said that we are living in an era where changes “unseen in a century'' are taking place. That’s the phrasing he used. As in, these are unprecedented changes. Then he explains this by saying that these unprecedented changes are in one respect the change in the balance of power which has taken place in a very dramatic fashion. What does he mean by that? He means that China has become the number two country and is probably likely to become the number one country.


Thirdly, he said, which is very important, these changes that have taken place unseen in a century are irreversible. That is, these are not temporary changes, and these are not tactical shifts. China thinks that there is a certain strategic change that has taken place as far as geopolitical equations are concerned. So in that sense what the resolution is trying to do is to reflect this dramatic and strategic change. Very major changes took place when the first and second resolutions were adopted; the whole reform and opening-up programme began with the second resolution. The third resolution is put forward because we are again at a turning point in history. So, on the one hand it is reflective of that perception in China that something very significant has changed, very dramatic has changed.


And therefore, we need to be able to understand it and we need to have the right kind of ideology, the right kind of perspective to take full advantage of this. So, this is education of the Chinese Communist Party as to why this is such a historic moment. So this is something that has to be understood. Now, of course something which is only true of China but maybe true of other countries as well: the more powerful a country becomes, the more powerful a leader becomes, his sense of anxiety also increases, his sense of insecurity also increases. So there is always this contradiction of power.


The greater the power, the greater the sense of insecurity, because you have to defend something much more, much more significant, much more important than you had before.

So both these things you see in China; on the one hand, there is arrogance of power, there is that sense of confidence that our time has come at the same time as you said you see a great deal of insecurity, “Oh! people are trying to contain us, people are trying to isolate us…” If you are so powerful then why should you be afraid of people trying to contain you? How can you be contained? So, this contradiction will continue, it is not something which is in a sense very surprising. But, irrespective of the Chinese assessment that this dramatic change has taken place, has it really taken place? That is the question. And, in that sense, what does the Ukraine war do? So, if you take the China-Russia joint statement of February 4, 2022, during the time of the Beijing Winter Olympics… what does that statement show?

The statement shows a convergent assessment of both Russia and China, precisely what Xi Jinping has been saying: that something dramatic has happened. So, they are making an assessment that “look what has happened with the United States of America and Western Europe in dealing with the Pandemic. We have been able to do such a great job in containing this, look at the complete chaos in the United States and Western Europe and many other parts of the world… Secondly, look at what has happened in Afghanistan, the chaotic manner in which the American and the West have had to withdraw. The US may be powerful still but the US has lost the will to fight. So, it does not have the stomach for a fight anymore. If you look at Europe, Europe is divided and is not able to act as a kind of a coercion force. Their economies are in the decline. So whether it is the US after the global financial economic crisis or whether it is western Europe, all of them are beset with very major economic problems. By contrast, China has done a great job dealing with the pandemic, in recovering its economy, in maintaining social stability. And the alliance between China and Russia is a very powerful way of really keeping the West at bay.” So, this is what runs through that joint statement.


Now, what the Ukraine war has done is: that those assumptions that were made by both China and Russia, those assumptions are now suspect. Why? Because what was expected was a few days’ war until Russia overcomes Ukraine… the message would go very loud and clear to the west that “you know, better not try to cross us.” That message will go, the US will become even less influential, less important in Europe, Russia would be able to hold the line as far as expansion of NATO is concerned and the West will have no alternative but to bring Russia into a kind of an European security ogreement, not as a marginal player but as a very key stakeholder. So, there were several objectives in that and of course, China would have thought that with this, their ability to dominate Asia would also be enhanced. Now, it is those assumptions which have become now suspect. If not entirely dispelled but they have certainly become suspect. Now, China is feeling the heat, because it may have miscalculated in entering into such a very major kind of an alliance with Russia in the expectation that Russia would prevail very quickly in Ukraine, which has not happened. Secondly, the manner in which Russia has been in a sense unplugged from the global economy is also a matter of great worry for China because it is still as I mentioned right in the beginning, its own prosperity is a creature of globalisation. Therefore, if it is also unplugged from the global economy, what would happen to China? So, there is a certain element of defensiveness which we see currently in China's posture. They are not as confident as they were earlier and this has also probably generated some internal tensions in China; because Xi Jinping has been associated with a certain policy with regard to Russia. Now if that Russian bet has gone bad, obviously this will reflect on Xi Jinping's leadership. Similarly, there are various economic problems which have cropped up in China, partly because of the Zero-Covid Policy, again associated with Xi Jinping. You see economic dislocation because of Xi Jinping's actions against the property market, against platform economies like Alibaba or Weibo and other major, very successful multinationals. So, if the economy is going down, if there is social unrest because of zero covid policy, even in the foreign policy field, the Russian bet has gone bad. Then obviously, I would imagine that there would also be political tensions within the leadership. How will it play itself out? Of Course we have to wait and see.


Asish: And last comment, will this create space for India to, you know, manoeuvre in this Russia-China axis?


Amb Saran: Yes! Of Course it does, because it reduces the pressure on India obviously. Secondly, those who are because of the Ukraine war are far more now sensitive to what China is doing.. China has had in a sense, it shares the opprobrium which now devolves on Russia. So if Russia is in the dock because it has attacked an independent country, any association of China with Russia also gives it a certain kind of blame. So, there is no doubt that China is, relatively speaking, somewhat on their defensive, and therefore it takes some of the pressure off you. So that is one aspect. Second aspect is, because of the change of perception in the west, particularly Europe, regarding China, because China has so, very explicitly allied itself with Russia, Russia which the West Europeans and many Europeans are looking at as their new big adversary. Obviously then, their attitude towards China has also changed. Therefore, when they see the emerging geopolitical landscape, in that geopolitical landscape India becomes very important, relatively speaking, because it (India) is seen as the only country which has the credible potential to be able to act as some kind of a countervailing force to China. So, you have this geopolitical moment, as I have said in the book for the transformation of India itself. Because the only long term way in which you can deal with a China challenge is to become a very strong country yourself, which you have the potential to. So, if you have a benign partnership with the West, with the US, with Japan and so on, then can you leverage that to get capital, to get very high technology from these countries, to have access to their markets in order to bring about as I said the transformation of India. That moment of opportunity is there, potentially. Of Course we have a history of shooting ourselves in the foot all the time, so maybe we will do the same again. But potentially yes, that opportunity is there,


Asish: Thank you so much Ambassador and just to summarise this interview for our audience, I would just say that we must look at China's contemporary behaviour from the historical lens through which it sees itself and discern where the gaps in this historical trajectory and only then will we be able to, you know, understand where is this relationship heading to, predict its behaviour and manage this relationship. And also, what the Ukraine war and its concomitant churning, the fractures in the global order portend for China is something which is panning out and is something that India should continue to monitor and maybe if possible, exploit this geopolitical space/moment that is coming up, that is emerging. On this tone. thank you so much ambassador for interacting with the Geostrata.


Amb Saran: Thank you, thank you very much. All the best, take care.




Watch the entire interview on the Geostrata's YouTube page


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BY ASISH SINGH IN CONVERSATION WITH AMBASSADOR SHYAM SARAN FORMER FOREIGN SECRETARY TEAM GEOSTRATA Dear readers, we look forward to receiving your feedback at thegeostrata@gmail.com

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